Cauliflower postcard - Archive: Bill Faller
LIRR H10s #108 westbound at Southold c.1950
Photo: John Krause Archive: George H. Lightfoot III
The Growth and Decline
of the Long Island Rail Road Freight Traffic In Suffolk County
- by Michael
 Equal to $36 a head today. So, yes, a delicacy in New York City in the 1880’s! Using today’s pricing about a pound of Cauliflower at $4-$5 for a head. Would have been 20¢ in 1885. Wow, talk about a “cash crop”.
There were a few organizations that were formed in Riverhead that had a huge impact in the agriculture industry. The oldest one was formed in 1863 by a group of farmers to form a club promoting agriculture. Meetings were held to discuss different kinds of seeds, and what type of crops were the most profitable to grow. This club was called the Riverhead Town Agricultural Society and was the oldest farm cooperative group in the United States. When commercially mixed fertilizers became available the Society acted as purchasing agents for its members and get bids and contracts for delivery of fertilizer at the lowest price. In 1872 the society bought a 1 pound bag of Algiers Cauliflower seed and this is what started the East End to become the largest growers of Cauliflower east of the Mississippi River with over 1/3 of Cauliflower grown in the United States in the Towns of Riverhead and Southold.
Riverhead team track cauliflower loading colorized postcard c.1905
In 1901 a few farmers formed the Long island Cauliflower Association. The LICA was a cooperative that would buy cauliflower seed at the lowest price possible, supplying barrels and later wooden crates to it farmers and working out reduced shipping cost’s with the LIRR by filling up more reefers. The LICA had a better system of marketing cauliflower and have agents in New York City selling the crop.
During harvest time which was between September and October before any frost the LICA would have a daily auction both in Riverhead and Southold. Farmers would line up their wagons filled with special ventilated barrels allowing air to circulate packed with up to 12 head of cauliflower. It was up to the farmer once his crop was inspected and given a market price to decide if he wanted the LICA to purchase his cauliflower. The LICA would give a receipt to the farmer and it would be the responsibly of the LICA to sell the crop and pay the farmer. The cauliflower would be loaded into iced reefers and the LIRR would run the cars to the city market.
"A Cauliflower Industry" - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 7/07/1900 - J. Glenn Eugster
1903 the LICA shipped 285,000 barrels of cauliflower, as well as
300 carloads of potatoes. Each year the LIRR would ship to New York
thousands of barrels of pickles, onions, asparagus, cabbage and
cranberries. In a short time period the LIRR would be shipping over a
million bushels of potatoes from the farms of East Hampton and
Southampton. During this time also the LIRR hauled thousands of bushels of
lima beans from farms between Deer Park and Riverhead.
"Long Island Railroad's Cauliflower Train" - The Standard Union 5/09/1905 - J. Glenn Eugster
the harvest time of 1905 the LIRR transported 437 tons of berries, 10,075
tons of cauliflower, 20,962 tons of pickles, and 53,724 tons of
potatoes. The LIRR used 3,250 freight car loads to haul the Long Island
produce to market.
"Cauliflower Train Starts" - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9/24/1908 - J. Glenn Eugster
barrels of cauliflowers bring growers $50,000 in six-day periods, all
grown in two towns. Nearly all of this stock has been harvested from two
towns, Riverhead and Southold...the big freight yard here is constantly
filled with cars waiting to receive the crop...icing the cars is another
big business resulting from the big crop..."
"East End Farmers Have Record Week" - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9/27/1913 - J. Glenn Eugster
1936 the LIRR shipped 667 reefers of cauliflower and in 1937 there
were over 1,054 car loads of cauliflower. These reefers needed to
be iced. And in the age before mechanical refrigeration the typical
refrigerator was heavily insulated with bunkers at each end of the car to
hold blocks of ice. The ice would be loaded into the bunkers through roof
top hatches. To supply ice to these cars in the late 1800’s up to the
manufacture of “artificial” ice Long Islanders during the early part of
the 20th century. East End farmers and fisherman as well as the rest of
communities worked together in the winter time when ponds, lakes, and
rivers were frozen in the task of ice harvesting. They would cut blocks of
ice out of the frozen water using saws just like the type of saws
lumberjacks had. These ice blocks then would be loaded onto wagons and
stored in well insulated wooden warehouses. The ice would be well packed
together with sawdust and remained frozen throughout the spring and summer
and be used for harvest time.
Photo: Riverhead Produce reefer ice loading 1951 Photo: John Krause
William Sweezy of Riverhead formed the Long
Island Ice company. Overtime the Long Island Ice company would have 7
locations on Long Island. In 1928 a modern Ice house and warehouse with a
2 car capacity was built in Riverhead. During harvest time the LIRR leased
reefers would be loaded with blocks of ice from the LI Ice Co.
The LIRR earned revenue hauling this type of freight until the mid-1940’s when more trucks took over the transportation of garden crops grown on Long Island. In Port Jefferson harvest time the LIRR would be shipping up to 20 cars a day of potatoes and cauliflower. The Remz Feed building opposite the Port Jefferson train station would receive by rail large shipments of Purina Chow poultry feed.
Photo: Riverhead Cauliflower
Cooperative - Archive: Bill Faller
1966 WAS A TIME OF CHANGE ON THE RAILROAD - by Gene Collora “Semaphore” April 1991, pages 5-7 excerpt
"...1966 was still a year of considerable freight operation on the LIRR. Double-ended freights (out one day – back the next) operated 6 days/week to Montauk (L-50), Greenport (L-62), Port Jefferson (L-56), and Ronkonkoma (L-52). Extras operated during the potato and cauliflower season and it was not uncommon to have reefers on every siding east of “KO” (Ronkonkoma) – even on the turntable at Greenport..."